SAF’s wishy washy response about parachute riggers being outsourced to “PRC”

A few days ago, a Facebook post surfaced alleging that “former SAF Riggers’ job of preparing our parachutes are now outsourced to PRC contractors”. It sparked considerable online speculation. When I first read it, my immediate response was that it’s not possible. There’s no way that we would outsource such an important role to foreign contractors. Not least because such a move actually compromises the defence and security of Singapore.

SAF has responded to the post with a Facebook post of their own. In that post, Chief Commando Officer, Colonel Simon Lim said:

“The SAF continues to fully employ its Riggers, particularly for key operations and training. In order to optimise our resources, we have outsourced the parachute-packing function to Singapore Technologies (ST) – a reputable local company.

Many of ST’s parachute-packing staff themselves are former Riggers from the Commando Formation, and all of ST’s parachute-packing staff are trained and competent in their roles. The training that they undergo, conducted by the SAF Master Rigger, is benchmarked against the United States Federal Aviation Administration (US FAA) standards.

The SAF Master Rigger certifies ST’s staff to pack the parachutes, and closely supervises the packing process. All equipment for our specialised operations pass quality assurance checks and adhere to stringent safety procedures. The packing and inspection of the SAF’s parachutes, whether by our SAF Riggers or ST’s staff, is benchmarked against the international standards set by the US FAA.

ST has been packing parachutes for us since 2010, and there have been zero parachute reliability issues. We are confident that this arrangement allows us to optimise the deployment of our SAF Riggers, whilst meeting the full operational and training needs of the SAF Commando Formation.”

While SAF’s response puts paid to speculations that it has outsourced parachute-packing to PRC contractors, it does not categorically say that only Singaporeans are involved in packing of parachutes for SAF. It still leaves room for people to speculate if there are foreigners packing the parachutes for SAF. For instance, while the job has been contracted to ST Engineering, would ST Engineering sub-contract part of the job to other companies, some of which could be foreign-owned or staffed by foreigners?

People who are familiar with how ST Engineering works have said that’s not possible because that’s just not how ST Engineering works. However, it is unlikely that most Singaporeans are privy to the operational principles of ST Engineering. Wouldn’t it then be much better for SAF to come out and categorically state that NO FOREIGNERS ARE INVOLVED in the packing of parachutes for SAF, thus dispelling any doubts whatsoever?

Some people also pointed to a job advertisement recruiting parachute packers by ST Electronics (which is a company of ST Engineering). The job advertisement states that only Singaporeans need apply. Again, why would SAF want to rely on Singaporeans’ own initiative to find out these things for themselves? Besides, that advertisement was posted in 2013. Has anything changed since then?

What’s worse, SAF wasn’t even prepared to respond when asked for further clarifications. Unlike the CNA (part of the state media), which merely echoed what SAF has posted, The Middle Ground actually bothered to ask for further clarifications. Unfortunately, MINDEF declined to say more beyond that statement by the Army. If it is indeed true that only Singaporeans pack parachutes for SAF, why doesn’t SAF simply come out to say so? Why such reticence? Doesn’t that seed doubts in the minds of Singaporeans? That SAF isn’t categorically saying that only Singaporeans are involved in packing parachutes of SAF because that’s not the case. Surely SAF and ST Engineering can coordinate their media responses to drive home that core message, right?

I think the PR guys in SAF can, and ought to, do much better in communicating with Singaporeans. If you have a point to be made, make it. Don’t be such a guniang (Singapore colloquial term for being wishy-washy). Make categorical statements. Don’t issue statements that say a lot but actually say nothing. Unless of course you really had nothing to say in the first place and are trying to hide behind a wishy washy media statement, hoping that it would confuse people enough that they will forget the issue completely.

[Featured image: 3WO Shirley Ng supervising the packing of parachutes. Photo from The Singapore Army/Facebook]

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